Snapshot: Mangagoy, Bislig, Surigao del Sur

This barrio is where the PICOP (Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines, the country’s largest paper manufacturing company) plant is located. With a population of 70,000, Mangagoy is probably the largest barangay in the Philippines. The PICOP presence has transformed the place into something like a small and very busy satellite city: there are several banks, both PT&T and RCPI telegraph companies are here; the market wakes up at 4 a.m. and goes to sleep at 9 p.m.; the entire place is a conglomeration of small shops and small houses.

The day starts with the aroma of newly baked bread wafting from the two bakeries in front of the market. With daybreak the small, daily early morning tabu of fruit, vegetables and root crops opens a block from across the market. By 9 a.m. this tabu vanishes, to reappear at dawn the following day. Mangagoy is migrant labor country, and the food centers are the market and the carinderias close by. Commerce is brisk; the food is always fresh.

All the carinderias are also drinking places, so that the food in the kalderos functions as viand as well as pulutan. The usual carinderia fare is offered: fried fish, escabeche, adobong pusit, kilawing isda, tinolang isda, menudo, nilagang baka, paklay, dinuguan. There is an obvious preference for seafood. On paydays, the third and twentieth of each month, several lechon are sold in the market. These are cooked Cebu-style, with lemon grass and other condiments sewn into the pig’s belly.

The way to enjoy Mangagoy is to center one’s meals in the market. Have, for instance, coffee at Stall 53, where coffee and Milo are served with loaf bread, pan de sal and Skyflake crackers by Gigi (Macabicha), who always augurs a fine day with her smile and warm conversation. In her stall there is also the exquisite puto maya with a light, lingering taste of ginger. You can eat your fresh fruit here, if you have bought some in the early morning tabu.

Lunch/dinner is diner’s choice. Go to the market, shop, think of how you would want your purchase cooked, and buy all the ingredients needed. Then proceed to, say, Junlyn’s Hot and Cold Spot, which is located in the carinderia row by the side of the market. Sally (Firmales), who owns it, is a charming, bubbly woman who is always smiling sweetly. For P5 per dish, she will prepare your kinilaw or sinigang, and/or whatever dish you have in mind.  Better still, she will welcome you to her small kitchenette, give you license and freedom, and function as your cooking aide. With her you will not only have food but the taste and lore or Mangagoy.

Mangagoy might be busy, but you can find that in its center, the market, there is ease and warmth, and desire can be requited.

~ from Lasa: A Guide to Dining in the Provinces by Edilberto N. Alegre and Doreen G. Fernandez (© 1990 by ENA, DGF and Bookmark, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Philippine Hawk-owl (Ninox philippensis spilocephala), photographed in the former PICOP forest area, part of which is in Bislig, Surigao del Sur. Photo by Tonji Ramos (all rights reserved).

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